City efforts to answer complaints from some activists about plans to resurface a path through the Ladd Arboretum will quadruple the cost to local taxpayers of the project.

Aldermen are scheduled to vote Monday on the new proposal, which calls for a permeable concrete path through the arboretum, rather than a less expensive asphalt path. They had approved the asphalt version of the plan last year.

Arboretum activists argued for using the same gravel or crushed stone material that was used on the original path a half century ago, but city staff said that would be far more costly than asphalt and create a path that would still be prone to flooding during warm weather.

The same section of lakefront path in 2011, when it was surfaced with crushed stone.

In addition, Public Works Director Suzette Robinson says, unlike asphalt and permeable concrete, the crushed stone can’t be plowed, so snow makes such paths inaccessible for three to four months a year.

That, she says, forces students heading to and from Kingsley Elementary School and Haven Middle School to walk on busy McCormick Boulevard and also makes the path unusable by handicapped persons in wheelchairs, including those living just across Bridge Street from the path at Over the Rainbow, a housing facility for disabled adults.

The new path through Perkins Woods, done with crushed stone after neighbors complained.

The city received a federal transportation grant funneled through the state to cover 80 percent of the project cost — up to a cap of $580,000.

For an asphalt path the grant would have covered $466,277 of the cost, leaving city taxpayers to pay $116,569.

For the permeable concrete path the state will pay $580,000, leaving local taxpayers with a bill of $465,433 — four times as much as for the asphalt version.

An asphalt path through the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Robinson says asphalt paths are widely used in other park settings — including at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Morton Arboretum and forest preserves in Cook and DuPage counties.

But she says the permeable concrete will have at least one practical advantage over asphalt, in that because water will soak through it, it should reduce flooding elsewhere in the arboretum.

Related stories

Arboretum planned to get asphalt path (4/10/14)

City gets grant to upgrade arboretum trail (1/31/13)

Evanston to seek grants for bike, walking paths (4/10/12)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Come tonight at 6 to voice your opinion

    The City Council Voted To Make All Ladd Arboretum Paths Concrete. Without public hearings the Evanston City Council voted to replace all the gravel paths with an 8 foot wide concrete path AND to add an additional concrete path along McCormick Blvd.

    The Ladd Arboretum Committee is opposed to either a concrete or an asphalt path, preferring instead, either repairing the existing path at pretty minimal cost, or replacing the existing path with stabilized granite.

    The Ladd Arboretum Master Plan, adopted by the City Council only 8 years ago, in 2007, expressly eschews hard surface paths and requires gravel paths. All previous plans also required gravel paths.

    Environmental Concerns:

    The two proposed paths add well over one acre of concrete paving to our fragile planet.

    Massive quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the main gases responsible for climate change, are produced in the manufacture of Portland cement. Cement production is a major contributor to CO2 in the atmosphere. (See

    Cement production (used in “regular” concrete and in porous concrete) is very energy intensive. Cement is among the most energy intensive materials used in the construction industry. While it is a great building material, it should be used judiciously. Added to that is the massive amount of hauling of materials: the topsoil along McCormick and the existing gravel path must go out, and many trailer truckloads of gravel and cement will come in. Transportation burns even more fossil fuels.

    Costs: With the multiple changes to the plan since its inception, costs have skyrocketed to $1,045,433. Federal money supplies $580,000 and the city is responsible for $465,433, three times the original cost.

    Ongoing maintenance cost: Though concrete requires almost no maintenance, the plan would have Public Works responsible for plowing the entire path each snowfall (somewhere between 1 and 2 miles). Public Works already struggles with keeping necessary sidewalks open after snowfall. We should not add another mile of walk through the Arboretum for them to clear.

    Porous Concrete has been used in other places in Evanston and has already started to fail. Yes, the industry is trying to come up with better products, but it is still problematic.

    Arguments and counter-arguments for the proposed plan are:

    Some argue that the Arboretum path should be available to all people, all year long, so it must be plow-able in the winter and ADA accessible. There is a particular concern about the mostly middle school students from Haven who frequently walk on McCormick Blvd.

    Response: Stabilized granite is ADA compliant and according to the manufacturers, it is plow-able. AND, if they do indeed put the concrete path along McCormick Blvd, there is no necessity for the lovely, curvy path through the Arboretum to also be concrete or ADA compliant. (Note: staff feels that stabilized granite is not plowable.)

    Regarding the students, there are already alternatives to walking on McCormick Blvd that they don’t use…because they are middle school students who will walk wherever they want. Kingsley School reports that their students come on buses. Regarding people in wheelchairs, there is already a concrete path in the adjacent Twiggs Park on the other side of the canal. And, if they indeed put another concrete path along McCormick, that one could be used by wheelchairs too. 

    Action: Please contact aldermen and let them know that you are opposed to the plan and come to the City Council Public Works meeting Monday, February 10, at 6 PM, in council chambers to voice your opposition.

      1. Snow removal–really ?
        For all the talk about needing new gravel or asphalt on the path, the city does not even clear the snow on the bridge over the canal on Greenbay—also from the bridge to McCormick. Even by March 1.
        Sounds like a solution in search of a problem.

  2. Citizens have spoken about Arboretum pathway project

    There seems to be a good deal of misinformation circulating about the pathway construction project proposed for the Ladd Arboretum and how we arrived at the current situation. But a few things seem clear: The scale of this project is out of proportion to what is needed to upgrade the paths. Neither asphalt nor concrete are appropriate or necessary. Modest needed upgrades could be made for much less using materials that are environmentally friendlier. And the proposed project is not in line with the Ladd Arboretum Master Plan.

    This article cites no source and no evidence for the claim that "activists" are somehow responsible for misuse of public funds. This city is lucky to have actively involved citizens who care about maintaining our public spaces. The Ladd Arboretum Master Plan, which was developed several years ago with citizen input and which is available for everyone to read on the city website (, is very specific about pathways and materials to be used to construct and repair them, i.e. decomposed granite. Secondary paths could be made of mulch instead, it specifies. (See page 23.) Citizen comments quoted in Appendix 2 specifically address pathways. In response to the question, "What would you NOT change about the Arboretum?", respondents said: "Don't pave the paths," "Wildlife pathways," and "Keep character of natural pathways."  This plan was officially adopted in July 2007.

    I hope City Council has the wisdom to stop this project from going forward as proposed and that city staff can renegotiate an agreement with IDOT that scales down the arboretum pathway project and redirects funds to places where they are needed and justified.

  3. Coulda’ been done already

    So, last year the Council voted to replace the path and as of yesterday, nothing has been done. A path was plowed through the most recent snow. A new, much more expensive project is proposed; one that will require bidding out, M/W/EBE requirements, hearings and Council decisions, i.e. more time.

    Last spring, the City could have gotten a large shipment of gravel, used City trucks to spread it (like salt/sand), a few City workers to rake it out behind -and be done with it.


  4. Path

    I am thrilled to hear that the paving of this path – in any material – is under discussion. For those of us who live near it, use it frequently, and have children who do, this is a very important issue. It's a hazard and a nuisance that it isn't paved. 

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